Armenian News Network / Groong
Armenian Master Photographer Kazar Sarkis Melikian Collection and Melikian Photo Studio Work Donated to the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. K.S. Melikian’s Daughter Mary Christine Melikian Passed Away 22 September 2015 (unexpectedly and peacefully) the morning after an “open letter of thanks” to those involved in the project had been completed.
News Network / Groong
October 15, 2015
Special to Groong by Abraham D. Krikorian and Eugene L. Taylor
LONG ISLAND, NY
“Photographs speak for themselves. There is no need to think about what is what, as long as Mr. Melikian's name is on the photograph.”
Some may know that a video entitled “Kazar Sarkis Melikian Photo Studio, Worcester, Mass.” was posted recently on You Tube on our Conscience Films site (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyenw3n7xJA)
We also drew attention to this video by a posting dated 11 October 2015 on Groong entitled “Mary Christine Melikian of Worcester, Massachusetts died at the age of 89 on 22 September 2015. A sad note of passage, and a happy notice of a major legacy of photographs for Armenians at the Library of Congress” at http://www.groong.org/orig/ak-20151011.html
That Groong posting also provides some text that was presented as part of the YouTube video. It was decided to do this so as to facilitate reading that might have presented problems for some on the YouTube video. What we wrote basically provided information on Mary’s death on September 22 at the age of 89, presented a letter of thanks that gave details of how the “Melikian Project” materialized and was completed at the ‘Worcester end’ at least, and lastly, drew attention to the opportunity for the Armenian community to provide financial support for the processing work at the ‘Library of Congress end.’ This kind of effort would surely help secure the Melikian materials for quick and full access to the interested public, laymen and scholars alike, through the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.
The video, which we posted earlier on YouTube, was edited to include Mary Melikian’s letter of thanks. We added an “Afterword” as well and re-posted it. The video and its associated text, written after the fact, is a bit longer than 2 hours. In a way, all this was the culmination of a project that we had undertaken nearly ten years ago! Mary was quite pleased that some sort of closure had finally been achieved because materials had been transferred to Washington; a letter of thanks was finished. When we heard that she died sometime in the morning of September 22, a sigh of relief and sadness overcame us. Mary had indeed ‘gone out on a high note.’ We can say that for certain because we talked to her on the telephone late in the afternoon of September 21, the day before she died.
Naturally we feel the film is worth watching. Much of what follows below will become clearer still once the film has been watched.
A key part of this present post is, however, not just a very brief glimpse of the Collection that is now at the Library of Congress, but to reproduce an amusing account of Kazar Sarkis’ early life story written by him. His early life was a portent of things to come. He wrote it in Armenian, it was translated in 1998 for Mary by an Aunt, Asghig Kachadourian (Mary Melikian’s mother’s youngest sister) then living in Boston. It is a charming story and is written in a very engaging style. It is hardly an autobiography in the traditional sense but it constitutes the recall of a man of the Old Country and his torturous immigration experience. It is packed with information and insight. In many ways it constitutes a response to the question posed by so many “Who are we?”
When we approached the Library of Congress to see whether they would be interested in accepting a gift of the Melikian Collection materials, we encountered far more recalcitrance than we anticipated. That story need not be told here. All that Mary Melikian wanted was that her father’s Armenian materials and the Armenian-related materials of the studio in the broadest sense, be preserved, made freely available to anyone, and that credit be given to the effect that a photograph was from the “K.S. Melikian Collection, and Melikian Studio, Worcester, Massachusetts.”
Mr. Melikian was born in 1885 in a Kharpert provincial village called Yegheki very close to the provincial capital Mezreh/small city of Mamuret ul-Aziz in the province of Mamuret ul-Aziz, Turkey, the heart of Turkish Armenia. Even as a child he was appreciated for his artistic talents and won a prize in the form of a gold watch that was presented by the Armenian Bishop of Arapkir for his skilled and apparently effective drawing of a major ecclesiastic of the Armenian Church, Catholicos Sahag II of Cilicia, using only a picture as a guide. (The likeness in the drawing must have been very convincing because the Bishop who judged the students’ works in an end-of-school year art contest knew the Catholicos well and considered him his mentor.)
Young Kazar set out for America in 1907 to join his older brother Mardiros who had emigrated to America in 1903 and was living in Worcester, Massachusetts. Mardiros [nicknamed Chakmakh, or ‘jack of all trades’ in Turkish; Kazar later gained the epithet of ‘Little Chakmakh’], was about 6 years older than Kazar and had considerable talent. Mardiros Sarkis Melikian worked especially with wood, designing and building the altars of both the Armenian Church of Our Saviour, the first Armenian church in the United States—established 1890 in Worcester, and the altar of St. Mary’s Assyrian Church, the second parish in the USA--cornerstone laid 1927, also in Worcester. Mardiros also did sculpture work, among other productions sculpting an attractive bust of President Howard Taft and sending it to him in appreciation for his efforts on behalf of Armenians. The bust is thought to be somewhere in the Smithsonian collections but we have not verified this. Quality photographs of the bust exist.
To continue briefly with Mr. Melikian’s immigration story, he reached Halifax, Nova Scotia and went to Montreal where he had to stay for a protracted period because he failed to gain entry to the USA as a result of an eye problem that was then widespread among Armenian and other immigrants from the Near East — the dreaded trachoma. He was cured, and legally entered the United States and ended up in Worcester, Massachusetts December 1907 where he worked and lived until he died in 1969.
We relate all this since his story reflects, like that of so many immigrants and in a great many ways, the realization of the American Dream. His work documents an important diasporan community, not only in Worcester but elsewhere in New England, and even New York City by virtue of the fact he trained several photographers of Armenian extraction who settled outside Worcester and who themselves played an important role in providing quality photographic service to the mixed communities they served (for a necessarily brief overview see Ruth Thomasian’s “Armenian Photographers of New England” in The Armenians of New England: celebrating culture and preserving a heritage, ed. by Marc Mamigonian, Armenian Heritage Press, Belmont, 2004, pgs. 189-205.)
Mr. Melikian’s work is today appreciated for its breadth and scale and has been showcased in several publications emphasizing ethnic and diasporan communities. But the work extends beyond that for he was engaged as well in photographing communities and personages with no Armenian connections. He also photographed buildings in Worcester and Worcester area and neighboring places for postcards—for which he never claimed credit although most of them exist in the collection with the notation that he photographed them. He photographed a broad range of individuals and groups, both inside and outside of the studio ‘on location’ so to speak. They include a very talented negro (African American) boxer, some amateur bodybuilders and several teachers of the fine arts - including dance school instructors. He did the photography for the latter’s instruction booklets and advertisements. He did a fair amount of volunteer photographic work during World War II in the form of posters and artwork as well.
Even in very early ‘histories’ and ‘directories’ of Worcester, Mr. Melikian deserved more than passing coverage. He interacted well with other photographers, gained recognition at the state and New England level and was granted several patents for his invention of such things as a negative holder for touch-up, a gadget which was adopted world-wide but, as was usually the case with Mr. Melikian, he never pushed issues of money and never made a proverbial dime from his innovations. He invented an automatic printing machine as well. All of his inventions would facilitate his work (and save money).
One can appreciate the vast amount of work that Mr. Melikian did by understanding that he became a widower in the early 1940s (his beloved wife Teris whom he had married on September 9, 1920 died of consumption January 1941) and took his daughter Mary under his wing and devoted himself avidly to her, and his work. Throughout the years he generously provided services pro bono to the Armenian Church and civic organizations. (There is, incidentally, a fair amount of oversize material and original art work done by Mr. Melikian in this connection that comprises part of the Melikian materials.)
The exceptional closeness of father-daughter just mentioned resulted in Mary’s learning a great deal of her father’s craft and understandably played no small part in her wishing to see the very best of Melikian Studio’s work preserved reliably, and hopefully in perpetuity. See Library of Congress Prints and Photographs ‘Kazar Sarkis Melikian Collection’ at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2015645298/. This collection awaits processing. The number of photographs estimated by the Library of Congress is in our opinion too low.
In March 1909 Mr. Melikian began his studies in photography at John Shaljian Studio, 377 Main Street in Worcester. He paid $25 cash for the opportunity and worked without pay until September to learn the techniques. He worked thereafter for varying times at National Studio, Oliver Studio, Millbury Studios, Tarr Studio, Bachrod’s Studio and DeDuke – all in Worcester. By 1920 he was on his own at the famous Harrington Corner of Worcester, 421 Main Street, across from City Hall, a venue that he was to occupy until he passed away. (An incredible photograph that he took from his studio window is of a repairman fixing a hand on the giant clock face of the elegant “Italianate, Renaissance Revival Style” Worcester City Hall, a fine granite building opened in 1898.) He was part of the Worcester landscape and was appreciated for his exceptional citizenship. (Copies of more general materials specific to Worcester have been deposited in the Worcester Historical Society, on Elm Street, Worcester.)
Kazar Melikian’s daughter Mary and his niece June Phyllis (a daughter of one of his brother Mardiros and his wife Koovar’s daughters; June’s married name is Mrs. Kenneth Benoit) used to work and help in the studio, but it was only after Mr. Melikian’s death in March, 1969 that Mary decided to carry on her father’s work and retain the studio, and to operate it herself with June’s help and collaboration.
The key elements of the Melikian Photo Collection are what one might justifiably call “Armeniana.” This material includes photographs, which must be among the oldest and most relevant to visual documentation of Armenian life and places inhabited by Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
Now, with that brief accounting, we should turn to K.S. Melikian’s “Life Story”.
Life Story of K. S. Melikian
Translated by Asghig Kachadourian (Mary Melikian’s mother’s Teris Hovsepian Melikian’s youngest sister)
I'll try to take the thorn out with my own hand and write a brief story of my life.
The mid-wife named Ogheeg Bachee [‘Sister’ Oghda, Ogheeg being the affectionate form for the feminine name Oghda; Bachee means ‘sister’ in Turkish], came in with a rusty pair of scissors in her waist sash [khodi] making the sign of the cross. This pair of scissors was meant for everybody. It was my turn to have my umbilical cord cut.
There was no other way except to help myself to be born, so I was born by myself on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, April 18, 1885.
When my mother looked at me she said, "Another flower is added to our family."
They dunked me into the christening font and took me out as Khazaros. Sarkis Melikian was my father’s name, Hoodig was my mother’s name, Mardiros my brother’s, and Sultan my sister’s [interestingly,’ Sultan’ was the Turkish form of the Armenian name Takouhie (meaning Queen or in anglicized form Queena, or even Regina.] That was my family.
One day they put into my hands a hard wooden writing board [wooden writing palette called a bunag in Armenia] with the ABCs [ipe, pehn, kim…] on one side, and numbers on the other side. They took me to school and handed me to Mr. Kevork, the teacher, and said "The flesh is yours and the bone is ours.” At that time it was the custom to wear the small wooden ABC board hanging down from one’s neck with a cord. Indeed, the board stuck to me but I did not stick to the board.
Now the time came for my first reading book.
Under the prevailing conditions, the teacher of the highest grade was sent to the neighboring village of Kesereeg, and many other pupils went there with him. My father told my brother Mardiros to take me with him — to take me to Kesereeg, and he did.
I finished my first grade book, and we were getting ready to start another book by the name of Mayrenie Lezoo [“The Mother Tongue”], which was more advanced. Lo and behold the 1895 Turkish Massacre started.
Because of the noble spirit of the kaimakam [translated as sheriff by Mary’s Aunt but is essentially a district head], our village of Yegheki, as well as some others, was spared from the Turkish Massacre.
For a time I continued my schooling in Yegheki, but then I had to leave school to learn carpentry and furniture making.
After having worked four years, I had to leave my trade and return to school because I did not have the necessary mathematical preparation for my job.
I wrote to my brother Mardiros in America and he sent me the money to get the education that I needed. [Mardiros Sarkis Melikian had emigrated to America via Ellis Island/New York on March 12, 1903 at the age of 19 on the SS. Blücher, sailing from Boulogne-sur-Mer, France on March 1, 1903. Tripoli [a port in Ottoman Syria] was given as his place of origin. He was single, and his profession was “farmer.” He had $16 on his person. He gave his contact in America as his cousin Hagop Markarian, c/o G.K. Sarafian of 94 Grove Street Worcester. The Grove Street address appears to be a boarding house of some sort since several individuals, both Armenian and non-Armenian, gave that as a contact address.]
I went to the Middle School in the [provincial] capital Mezireh. They put me in the second grade. Soon after they put me in the third grade, then the fourth and fifth.
Now, the school was closed for summer vacation. During those few months I worked more on the subjects which would be necessary in my job.
It was the first time that they introduced drawing lessons in this school. This was the order from Constantinople, by Varjabed [Teacher] Darson, so they brought in a drawing teacher named Mr. Mugerditch from the Sanasarian School [not sure which Sanasarian Varjaran he came from. There were several; one was in Sivas, another in Erzerum etc.]. After a few lessons, Mr. Mugerditch told each of us to draw a picture which would be hung on the walls for closing-day exercises. The best drawing would get a prize. But he did not give us any idea as to what to draw or what the subject should be.
I pleaded with him to give me an idea, but he didn't. He did help the Principal's son in every way, so he would win the prize. He was the best drawer in the school because he had taken lessons in Constantinople. After him, I was the next best. I would be competing against him. My competitor was in the seventh grade and this was his last year. But I came from the practical world and more or less knew, or could figure out, how people thought and evaluated.
I made it my business to find out what they were drawing, and did indeed succeed in finding out.
I came from a village, and my clothes and appearance showed it. I wore a long shirt with numerous patches in all colors, sizes, and shapes — all of which showed my mother's good taste and ingenuity. It was forbidden to comment in the school about the way the children were dressed.
Varjabed Armen Darson, who was helping my competitor in his drawing, had picked out the picture of Archbishop Ormanian who was [Armenian Patriarch] in Constantinople at the time. [Patriarch Maghakia Ormanian served from 1896 to 1908. He died in 1918.]
For my project I started drawing the picture of Catholicos Sahag II [Khebayan] from Yegheki. He held the highest office in the Armenian Church [in the Ottoman Empire] — as the Catholicos of Cilicia in Sis. During the Armenian Genocide, he was exiled from Sis, and then again from Adana whence he had been moved. He wandered for years throughout the Near East until 1929 when he finally settled in Antelias, Lebanon. He died in 1939 at the age of 90.]
On the day of the closing exercises — the day of the competition — when I went to school, Mr. Mugerditch, the drawing teacher asked me "Have you drawn anything?" I told him I had made a drawing but it was at home. I could, however, fetch it right away. I went and brought it back before the appointed hour. When I went into the classroom I saw that my drawing was put at the end of the line.
When Mr. Mugerditch saw my picture, he almost had a heart attack. His face changed color. He could hardly say “It is good.” He added that Armen Darson's work was good. He used more sketch lines. But I had worked with more precise details, as if it were an enlarged picture done with a machine. I had not signed my drawing and had not mentioned the name of the subject. But my competitor had written “Archbishop Ormanian” under his picture.
The dimensions of the pictures were 20" X 24". We hung up my picture on the wall. I then went and sat in a corner. The guests started arriving and we were told that Bishop Mooshegh Seropian would be there as well. It seems that he was specially invited to attend.
At that time, I think he was the Bishop of Arapkir, a large Armenian city [according to Acting United States Consul William E.D. Ward, at Harput in the Vilayet of Mamouret-ul-Aziz, that is Kharpert province in which Arapkir was located, the population of Arapkir in 1913 was about 20,000.] When he entered the hall, he was greeted with a big applause. He looked at all the pictures. When he saw my drawing of Catholicos Sahag he exclaimed: "My Armenian Religious Father!" "This is a gorgeous picture,” and asked "Who did this?" They pointed to me curled up in the corner. "God Bless you. Long may you live." The Patriarch Ormanian picture was forgotten, and Mr. Mugerditch's neck was hanging down in dismay.
The prize given to me was a pocket watch with numerals in Turkish style, which I have to this day. In 1908 Catholicos Sahag went to Yegheki Village where he was born. While there they showed him my drawing of him. He said, "This is a talented boy. Bring him to me so I can take him with me." When they told him the boy had gone to America, he said, “I am very happy that he was not left here.”
I came home proudly and said to my mother, "See what I got for my drawing? I won the competition and the prize I got is here — a pocket watch." My mother, being pre-occupied with her weaving, paid no attention to me saying, "Sit down and help me get the thread ready for my weaving." When my father came home, I showed him the watch. He said "Hurry up, we have to go out. It is our turn to have the stream water flow into our garden." (Each family took a turn in the use of the water from the stream.)
Then I asked him at what time — because now I had a watch. This was the first time that our family had a watch or a clock. My father, with a little smile on his face, said "There is no time now to bother with a watch or clock." Now, for a kid like me this much encouragement was what I deserved, I guess. No one seemed to care about the many hours that I put into my drawings.
In February 1907, we were working at the house of a Turkish police chief who had recently come from Constantinople. He was one of those freedom thinkers. My boss, Nazareth Aglamalian, asked the Police Chief if he could do me a favor and give me a permit to go to America. He said he could give me a permit to go anywhere in Turkey, but not to a foreign country. He said there was only one way, and that was to give me a permit to go as far as Jerusalem. From there I would have to find a way on my own to go to America. The permit would state that it was for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at Easter time. He did as he promised, and I set out on March 15, 1907 to be in Jerusalem in time for Easter. (Incidentally, the Turk who helped me could have been more helpful, but I really appreciated one thing very much. He enabled me to go to places that meant so much to me — such as the Armenian Church, the Museum and the Philanthropic Association — the A.G.B.U. — Armenian General Benevolent Union, whose door was always open for Armenians to go in and read the newspapers. This was something new for me — (periodicals, books, etc.)
Let me tell you about another lucky incident. When I was on the way to Jerusalem through Aleppo, an important Syrian city, I met an old neighbor, a Turk who knew my father very well and was a friend.
This man said "Neighbor, wait until I give you a letter of recommendation. When you arrive at the port in Beirut, my brother will be there. He is the one who checks the tickets. He knows your father and he can put you on the boat, so that you will get to your destination safely.
Everything happened just as he said it would. He put me on an English boat heading towards Jerusalem, and that is what my ticket was for, to Jerusalem. So when we came to the port of Jerusalem [Haifa] and everybody got out, I did not leave the boat because I had been told to stay aboard.
After a while, when the boat had left the harbor, the captain of the boat noticed me and said, "You should have gotten out. I know you are going to America." Saying this he gave me a friendly smile.
Next we came to the port city of Alexandria in Egypt. There I met an agent who I knew back in my village. He took me to his hotel. Then this agent bought me a first-class ticket. But when I entered the boat, they put me in third class, and even lower than third since fourth class is where they keep the freight.
I met a fellow on the boat from Buzmushen [Pashmashen] village. He had come from Worcester, Massachusetts, and was going back to America. He knew my brother Mardiros.
He persuaded me to exchange our clothing. He would give me his American garb and I would give him my old-country clothing. We failed to take into consideration that he was twice as big and burley as I was. Finally, we settled on carrying out the actual exchange. He bragged about his clothing; how new they were, how they were made of beautiful material and that they had only been worn on Sundays and had no tears or holes. They were only a little faded and that was natural. To me it looked like the clothes were ‘rusted’ in time.
He had a ‘rusted’ derby hat, which I put on my head and it came down on my nose. He told me, "Wait a minute. I have to show you how to wear this type hat." Taking the hat in his hand, he stuffed a half-inch of paper in it [presumably beneath the sweatband] and it was done.
His coat, a formal coat, which happened to be a uniform, had rounded edges, so when I put it on, it hung down to my knees. That was all right — not too bad. The sleeves were too long, though, so we had to turn them in a few inches.
In the same way, we had to make the necessary changes in the trousers to fit me. The shoes were not too worn out, with metal plates [cleats] underneath. They made a lot of noise when I walked in them, and it pleased me. With this change of outfit, I was “Americanized.” (I looked like an American Circus Clown!)
It was festival time in Alexandria. Going out on the town, I bought myself a stylish cane, as if that was the only thing missing. When I was walking toward the Armenian Church through narrow streets, some kids, making fun of me and my hat, hit my hat. That caused the hat to slip down on my nose, blocking my view.
I had hardly gone a house or two when a blow came to my head. I took off my hat to look around and see who did it. I did not see anybody except those who were looking down from the windows and were laughing at me, holding my hat in my hand. I returned to the hotel, and on the following day I took the boat to Marseilles, the French port.
We landed at Marseilles and I went for an eye check-up, because people travelling to America were supposed to have their eyes checked for trachoma.
The check-up showed that my eyes were "No Bono." That meant I couldn't enter America. Instead, I should try to go to London. In London, I again could not pass the eye test to enter America. So from London I went to Halifax [Nova Scotia], Canada, and on from there to Montreal. There I went to Mr. Aram Shahin's Hotel, because I heard it was his specialty to smuggle people into America. If people could stay in America for three years secretly, they would be free and not prosecuted. I kept it very secret. I did not even tell my brother Mardiros. I only told him I would be there in America within a few days.
Now, at this time, two men had come from America as secret agents, and promised to smuggle people. Their intent was to put an end to Aram Shahin's business. Aram's customers would be arrested at the Canadian border. He would then be prosecuted and jailed, and the people he intended to smuggle would be sent back to Canada.
Aram Shahin found out about this evil plan and worked accordingly.
These evil-minded people tried to trick me and my two friends. But, Aram Shahin worked faster. And when another group went to the Canadian border, they were arrested and sent back. Aram Shahin was taken to court. He won the case. But I could not see myself being smuggled into the United States in that way. It was a risky business, so I went back to Montreal. I had my eyes treated and taken care of, so that I could enter the United States lawfully.
For this treatment, I had to stay in Montreal for many months until I was declared "Bono", my eyes being in perfect condition. Then I was allowed to enter the United States of America legally.
As I had earlier mentioned to my brother Mardiros that I would be in Worcester in a few days, I took the train from Boston to Worcester on Sunday at 1:00 PM. I showed the address to a policeman and he gave me directions how to find Arch Street.
I walked in my ‘Egyptian/Americanized outfit’ to Arch Street. Across the street were a few Armenian men talking. One of them was my brother’s classmate. He was Kachadoor Aslanian from Kesereeg. I recognized him. There were three other men as well and I asked them if they knew Mardiros Melikian or his address. They answered that they did not know anyone by that name. When Kachadoor heard this, he looked at my face and said to the fellows, "Hey! He is Chakhmakh's brother!” Chakhmakh [in Turkish] means a person who can do everything — a jack of all trades — his nickname. He was known by that name and no one knew his real name, Mardiros.
They pointed across the street to me and they said, "That house is No. 1. From there count two streets and you come to No. 34.
In Worcester, the majority of the people knew my brother only as Chakhmakh, by the black population as well as the white. But me, starting from Egypt they called me a ‘Little Comedian’, as I was full of fun and jokes all the time.
My title got changed in Worcester to "Little Chakhmakh." The same day, some of my brother’s friends had gone to Belmont Hill, to meet the train coming in from Boston. My brother’s dear heart told him that I could be on that same train, and indeed I was.
My brother told his friends to return home as I was walking, and he was approaching home. We met each other at the door.
When we went inside the house, my Uncle Manoog Melikian's first job was to take my hat, a relic of the Pharaoh's age, and threw it on the floor. He gave my brother $10 and told him to buy a nice hat for me. [Manoog Melikian had emigrated to New York/Ellis Island on September 4, 1909 on the SS. St. Paul having left Cherbourg, France on 28 August. He was 33 years old [date of birth 1879], 5 feet five inches tall and gave his trade as “cultivator.” He had left his wife Mariam in “Harpouth.” He gave his cousin Mardiros Melikian of 34 Arch Street, Worcester as his contact. He had $20 on his person.]
My relative Toros Melikian took off my antique coat and threw it in the wastebasket. I saw that my cousin, Haji [indicating he had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem] Krikor Housepian, took care of my shoes. In this way I got rid of my antique clothing and the clothes got rid of me. AMEN!
When I came to America, I decided the first thing was to learn a little English. So I went to a school that taught English to new immigrants. In Worcester I went to the school on Gage Street, Gage St. School, where my classmate was the editor of an Armenian paper, Mr. Y. Sirvart.
Our teacher was a lady named Miss Power. One day she wanted us to draw some picture, or to copy a picture from a book. From my book, I drew a rabbit that was sitting and eating some nice green grass. It turned into a beautiful piece of work. The teacher said it was very nicely done and displayed it to the class.
For the second lesson, I drew a branch from an apple tree bearing blossoms and a few leaves. This time I tried it with watercolors, and this was successful too. I still have it. The teacher brought me a flower to draw in color and I painted it with many colors.
The next time, the principal brought me a big card with colorful birds and a box of colored chalk. He wanted me to draw them on the black wall behind the classroom door. It would stay there as a souvenir for many years to come. I drew the picture, and for my signature I drew a small picture of a little boat on canvas and signed it.
Twenty-seven years later, one of my friends happened to go into that classroom. The lady teacher showed him the picture and she wanted to know if he knew who the artist was. My friend, seeing the picture said, "Why the artist is a dear friend of mine. He is in the photography business now." My friend came and told me that he was very surprised that they had preserved my picture with such care.
School vacation put an end to my schooling at Gage St. School.
I tried my hand at drawing a number of things. But I did not like the drawings that I made, so I decided on photography. Photography has something to do with artistic drawing, and would in my opinion allow my name to be spread to the four corners of the globe. You would be able to see my name in many homes. I couldn't want anything more than that.
Photographs speak for themselves. There is no need to think about what is what, as long as Mr. Melikian's name is on the photograph.
On March 15th, 1909, I started learning photography in Worcester. I worked in John Shaljian’s Studio. I worked there for six months with pay. I worked at other studios as well, thus learning and gaining more experience. In the last studio where I worked, all the responsibility for the photography was given to me.
After a while, my boss wanted to sell his business and go to New York. This was a good opportunity for me to purchase this established studio. Since I did not have the necessary money, I went into partnership with another photographer, Mr. Hagop Kinosian, a respectable person. My partner also had sold his business and was looking for a new studio. With his money and my experience plus my good personality, we blended together like water. We promised to work together for four years at 411 Main St. after which time we parted ways. I moved to a new studio at 421 Main St., corner of Main and Front and I am still there.
On May 1, 1920, I started my photography business at this new location. Luckily, after World War I there were many Armenian bachelors who had come to America, leaving their families behind. They were not ready to settle down and start their own families. Most marriages were arranged by the parents. Consequently, many Armenian girls arrived in the States to be married.
Fortunately, I had a bridal bouquet of artificial flowers that I had designed myself, and also had in my possession a bridal gown. These were used in the wedding photographs of several couples who were unable to purchase their own bridal gowns.
My photographs also helped in the matching of couples. The bachelors sent their photographs to the old country, enabling parents to match them with the best available girl.
[‘WE CAN ACCOMMODATE ALL NEEDS.’ THE FOLLOWING PART OF K. S. MELIKIAN’S LIFE STORY IS VERY HUMOROUS]
My drawing ability, combined with my photography, gave me the privilege of incorporating both into my new business. I even combined old and new pictures as needed to satisfy the needs of a customer.
As an example of the work that I did, I have a little story to tell. In 1924 an Armenian woman came to me and wanted to have a photograph made of her husband who had passed away 15 years ago. She said, "Mr. Melikian, I have seen your work in many homes and they all have praised you! I would like you to make a photograph of my husband so that I can take it home and hang it on the wall, so my children will not feel like orphans. They always ask, “We want to see a picture of our father.” I told the woman to give me a photograph of her husband, so that I could see it. She answered, "I have no photograph and my husband never did have a photograph taken. I am confident that you can draw one for me. I can describe him to you. Then I can take it home, put it up on the wall and tell the kids, “Here is your father’s picture."
I took a piece of paper and started. She described him:- "He had a triangular head, was half-bald, and had a flat nose that was short and round. The lower jaw had a dimple. He had a long thin neck and no teeth." I told her that I would let her know when it would be ready. I thought I drew a good resemblance from her description. I called her up. She came and asked, "Where is the photograph? Let me see it." I told her it was the one on the wall, the one with a beautiful frame. Full of emotion she stared at the picture for a long time and then said, "Oh My God! How changed he looks. But indeed I haven’t seen him for fifteen years."
"He looks very good. I will take it home and hang it on the wall. I thank you very much for not turning me down." She paid me and took the photograph home. The children liked the picture of their father and they no longer felt like orphans.
I have also done artistic photographs, and have participated in exhibitions. My photographic works were well appreciated and considered first class. Also my photographs appeared in a photography journal.
I now have the expertise to provide exactly what customers want. After the war, photography has changed quite a bit, and nowadays even first class work is not appreciated. Customers now tell us what to do concerning their photographs, instead of the photographer suggesting the right poses for them.
Here is a copy of a note of appreciation:
Certificate of Acceptance Presented to K. S. Melikian
in recognition of the Excellence of Photographs
Exhibited at the 1927 Convention in Boston, Mass.
Photographic Association of New England –
Addendum: Since there is some room left on this paper, I have but one more thing to add. When I went back to Montreal from America, the F.B.I. started to follow me wherever I went. There were two big, well-dressed men who would pass by me, and very often we would run into each other. This made me suspicious. A few days later I went to the YMCA for a shower, since I had been a member of the YMCA in America, I had the privilege of using the facilities in Canada as well.
After a few minutes, I undressed and went downstairs for my shower. I saw the same two men follow me. They saw me and decided that I was not the person they were looking for. They approached me and asked my name, where I came from, and how long I had been in the States. I told them my name and that I came from Worcester, and that I had been in the U.S.A. for twenty-two days.
They asked me a few more questions, they left, and I never saw them again.
On the same day I went to Mr. Aram Shahin, and I told him about the men. He said the daily paper had written about a crime. An Armenian man was killed in Chicago and they were looking for the killer who was supposed to have taken refuge in Canada. But he had tattoos of flowers on his arms and chest. He said, “Because you have come from America, these two F.B.I. men wanted to see you without any clothes. Since you did not have tattoos on your body, they left you alone.” And this is how it happened.
Address: K.S. Melikian
421 Main St.
P.S. When you are through reading the story of my life and do not wish to keep it, kindly send it back to me. Let this handwriting remain as a souvenir.
Khazaros S. Melikian
A FEW PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE MELIKIAN COLLECTION ARE PRESENTED BELOW. They have been selected for their relevance to his early life story. The ones selected also provide a bit of insight into the ‘way we were in the Old Country’ (the Erghir). For us these rare photos are a remarkable vehicle for gaining more than a little insight on the events in the life of some of the Village people in Old Armenia.
Kazar Sarkis (on the left) and Mardiros Sarkis Melikian as youngsters in Yegheki Village
Kazar Sarkis and Mardiros Sarkis Melikian in Worcester
Kazar Sarkis Melikian his trusty Century Camera, patented in July 1902. For its operation see YouTube
Scene showing a deceased man laid out with a range of mourners. Each of the faces provides an opportunity to study expressions of grief. Two village priests [kahanas, married priests] are in evidence on the right. Note their traditional headwear. The traditional cope they wear is more familiar to Armenians everywhere. The garments of the mourners are worthy of a careful study.
Yegheki schoolboys and their teachers (1909). This wonderful photograph identifies the students in a detailed, handwritten number key. The students are impressive, as are their teachers. Again, note the range of clothing, and facial expressions.
This photograph shows
the original status of the photograph.
It certainly indicates its age.
Certainly the adage “precious today, priceless tomorrow” applies.
Typical late summer, early autumn Village scene. Making rojig [walnuts on long strings repeatedly dipped into fruit juice thickened into a paste (much like candle-making), and allowed to dry in the sun.] Note the bare-footed man in the center treading grapes (visible in woven baskets on either side; they seem to be ‘white’ grapes). The square trough in which he is treading the grapes has spout that allows the juice to pour out even as the seeds and skin remain behind. Nowadays, rojig is very difficult to find. The supplies we have tracked down over the years are a feeble substitute for the real thing! No doubt, the making of rojig is time-consuming but it is an ingenious way of storing without refrigeration. In America, such confections were frequently dusted with powdered sugar. In the villages of Old Armenia, say around Kharpert, chances are that cane sugar was too expensive and rarely available. Instead, pekmez, concentrated grape juice or honey were the usual sweeteners. Today, so-called “fruit leather” [bastegh] is marketed far and wide. Bastegh was frequently used to wrap walnuts. Rojig is more elegant, and represents a more convenient form of bastegh and walnuts.
We thank Mary, June and last but not least, Kazar Sarkis Melikian for preserving the Armenian heritage and legacy over the years.
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